The Georgia General Assembly began the 2014 legislative session on Jan. 13, and lawmakers heard Gov. Nathan Deal’s State of the State message and budget proposals on Jan. 15.
I was among many legislators who were disappointed to hear the governor repeat his decision not to accept federal funding to expand the Medicaid program in Georgia under the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
According to the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, Georgia ranks 50th among U.S. states in Medicaid spending per patient and 49th in statewide health care spending per capita. Georgia has the fifth most uninsured residents and the fourth most uninsured children in the nation.
Expanding Medicaid eligibility could extend health coverage to 600,000 presently uninsured Georgians. Under the Affordable Care Act, such an expansion would be 100 percent federally funded through 2016, and in the long term, the state’s share would be only 10 percent.
A Georgia State University study estimates that the expansion would create up to 70,000 new jobs statewide, 60 percent of which would be outside Atlanta, and Georgia would realize a potential $8 billion yearly economic impact.
Georgia’s estimated investment over the next 10 years would be $2.1 billion, compared to $33.2 billion coming into the state through federal funding.
Refusing to accept this federal funding is a costly decision for our state. We will continue our efforts to convince Gov. Deal to change his position throughout this session.
Budget Proposal: Gov. Deal’s proposed $20.8 billion annual state budget for fiscal year 2015 includes $547 million in additional public education appropriations, aimed at restoring instructional days, ending teacher furloughs, raising teacher pay and upgrading Internet service in all Georgia schools. That amount, however, is only a fraction of the cumulative $7.6 billion that has been cut from state formula funding to local school systems over the past decade.
Also, the governor is proposing a 3 percent increase in funding for HOPE Scholarships and Grants, as well as an expansion of the HOPE Grant program in the state’s technical colleges to cover four additional areas of training and paying full tuition for technical college students who earn and maintain a 3.5 or higher grade point average. The plan also includes $10 million to be spent on a 1 percent interest loan for technical college students.
Other proposed new allocations include $175 million in bonds for construction and maintenance of higher education facilities, $42.8 million in bond funding for construction, repairs and renovations to Juvenile Justice facilities, $39 million to give pay raises to high-performing state employees, $37.4 million for prison repairs and security upgrades, $35 million for deepening the harbor at the Port of Savannah and $7.4 million to hire new caseworkers for the Department of Family and Children Services.
Rep. Carl Von Epps and Speaker David Ralston express thanks to Blayne Byrom and Jaydon Montgomery, who served as pages in the House of Representatives on Jan. 13.